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The Week in Books: Howard of Warwick

domesdayI spent much of this past week being a Single Mama while my hubby was away in Amsterdam, and consequently, what with NaNoWriMo and Hannah refusing to nap because her schedule was all screwed up, etc., I haven’t had a lot of time to read.  But with that said, I finished a biography of Mary Tudor by David Loades for my podcast.  And I talked about her yesterday (the book was long and arduous, but totally worth it because I can now smugly talk all about the driving forces behind Mary’s unpopular marriage).  So instead of that, let me tell you about this book I just started, the Domesday Book (No, Not that One), by Howard of Warwick.

Can I just say – this book is really awful to read right before bed, because I laugh so damn much that it’s hard to fall asleep.  It’s sort of as if the Monty Python guys had written a historical fiction book.

The premise is: the Battle of Hastings.  The Normans win (obviously) but no one can find body of the Saxon King Harold.  This is very bad because William (the Conqueror) knows that he will need to provide a body to prove that he won on the battlefield.  He knows that eyewitnesses saw the king being shot in the eye with an arrow, but he can’t seem to find a well-dressed kingly man with an arrow in the eye on the battlefield.  If Harold up and left, and was gathering his own army to attack again, this would be a bad thing.  So William needs to find Harald, but he needs to do it secretively so that no one else knows.  So he calls together a loyal servant, a bumbling idiot who claims to have found Harold’s body (but realized he didn’t when William about chopped his head off for having brought the wrong dead guy to his tent), an efficient but annoying know-it-all, and a Saxon hostage who can be a guide.  He comes up with the perfect ruse to send a band of soldiers into the countryside: to count the country, so that he can know what all is there, and how to tax them properly.

In reality, the Domesday book, a land grant survey, was commissioned in 1085 by William to assess the land and resources that England owned at the time, and to help figure out the taxes he could raise.  The first draft was completed in August 1086, and contained information about over 13,000 settlements in England south of the rivers Ribble and Tees (the border with Scotland).  It is still around in the National Archives in Kew, in a very special chest.  From the Domesday Book website:  “It was written by an observer of the survey that “there was no single hide nor a yard of land, nor indeed one ox nor one cow nor one pig which was left out”. The grand and comprehensive scale on which the Domesday survey took place led people to compare it to the Last Judgement, or ‘Doomsday’, described in the Bible, when the deeds of Christians written in the Book of Life were to be placed before God for judgement. This name was not adopted until the late 12th Century.”  David Hume described it as the “most valuable piece of antiquity possessed by any nation.”

Meanwhile back in the book, a band of rather stupid Vikings (well, three rather stupid vikings) sail up the Humber river and start to head South for some reason unbeknownst to me at this point in time.

I’m guessing the two groups are going to meet and some sh*t is going to hit the fan.

I can’t do this book justice, so let me paste in below the description from Amazon, and you can decide for yourself if it’s appealing (it’s like $3…totally worth taking a chance on).  And also, if you want to read the “real” Domesday Book, you can get that on Amazon, too.  Seriously, this guy is hilarious, and I can’t wait to read the rest of his stuff (comic medieval crime novels from what I can tell).


“The time in Hastings, England is 1066 precisely. Duke William of Normandy may have just won the most recent battle in the area but he has mislaid something precious; something so precious no one must even know it is missing.

He carefully assembles a team for a secret mission of recovery, (the assembly is careful, not the team), and he sends them forth to the north.

But his secret is already out and another band has the treasure in their sights.

In a race across a savage land, against the clock and against one another, two forces hurtle towards a finale of cataclysmic proportions; all in 29 concise and entertaining chapters.

Find out what the treasure is. Find out who gets it first. Find out what happens to everyone afterwards. Find out some other stuff. Containing several facts and a brief appearance by a monk; it could have happened, it might have happened… but probably didn’t.

Out of the Scriptorium comes an extraordinary history.

A book so epic it has a map.

The author of the world’s best selling medieval crime comedy series has done something amazing: he has written another book.

International best selling, prize winning author, Howard of Warwick, has taken the Battle of Hastings and added meticulous fabrication to weave an explosive, controversial and hilarious tale which will have historians up and down the country throwing their slide rules at the radio.

Now with slips of the quill removed by Betty.”